Review: C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield (Nintendo Switch)

So close to being the new Fire Emblem.

10 mins read

I have no idea why the decision makers at ACQUIRE through that C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield was a good name for a game. It’s hard to imagine anything more totally and utterly generic, and this entire review is so late after the game’s release precisely because even I overlooked it. I’m the exact target market for this thing. Thankfully one of DDNet’s most loyal readers told me I should play this, so I did, and I love it. Japanese developers, I love you all and I am sure names like this work for the Japanese consumer, but for the love of Hatsune Miku please hire someone to create a local name for the global release. It actually matters.

Related reading: Another tactical JRPG released this year is the must-play Unicorn Overlord. Our review.

Putting aside the horrible excuse for a name, What you get with C.A.R.D.S is essentially Fire Emblem meets Slay The Spire, and that’s a combination I haven’t seen before that works very nicely. I would have enjoyed a deeper narrative, sure, but at the same time, I found myself getting very quickly lost in the flow of battles and the dynamics of the combat system. In other words, usually with JRPGs, I want to see a narrative, but this is one of the rare cases where the gameplay mechanics are compelling enough in their own right.

On the surface level, the game looks like Fire Emblem. On each stage, you’re presented with a top-down map, and you’ve got access to a small array of heroes. Most of the map is then covered with a fog of war – you can see icons representing enemies, treasure and items, but you can’t see specifics about them until you get closer.

C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield screenshot

From there the game plays out in a turn-based manner. You’ll move all your units around, and then the enemy will get its turn. The difference between C.A.R.D.S and Fire Emblem is what happens when combat is joined. There, you’re dealt a hand of cards and have a number of action points to either attack the enemy, or set up defences for your unit. After you run out of action points, the enemy gets its turn, and you’re dealt a new hand of cards. In other words, it plays out exactly like Slay The Spire. After three “rounds” of this, the fight is over (even if neither character has been killed) and you’re returned to the battle map.

It’s difficult to articulate just how awesome this is on first impressions alone. You’ve got the tactics of an iconic tactical JRPG series, the battles themselves have another layer of tactical play thanks to the card game mechanics, and then there’s the compelling deckbuilding experience that has made Slay the Spire and its clones such a popular genre.

The game looks gorgeous too, with well-drawn character sprites and battlefields. There’s the odd moment where things look a little odd – the art that pops up on a victory almost looks like it’s rendered in low resolution rather than being an art direction decision, but otherwise, the rich colours and slick animation in battles make for a compelling Fire Emblem approximation.

C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield screenshot

The initial enthusiasm does fade a little from those strong first impressions, unfortunately. The biggest issue is that all your characters share the same deck of cards for combat. Defeat an enemy or loot a chest with one character and earn a new card for the deck, and another character on the other side of the battlefield has access to it immediately when they start their own combat.

This makes sense to an extent, because managing individual decks of cards for every character would become ridiculously unwieldy. Characters are also differentiated by their type (so heavy armoured knight-types ARE different to the rogues and light skirmishing swordsmen), and there are items that you can pick up from the battlefield that further adjust their statistics. So it’s not like every character has the same utility on the battlefield, even if they are sharing the same deck of cards. But it does result in some odd moments where, for example, ranged characters and melee characters are using cards designed for the other type of hero. A knight using an archer’s attack isn’t as effective with that attack, but that then stops you from tailoring your deck to make optimal use of your characters.

I don’t necessarily have a solution to this because I know I wouldn’t want to be spending hours between battles tweaking decks for each character, but I don’t think the solution was a single deck of cards either. One of the great things about Fire Emblem is the idea that each character on the battlefield is truly unique, and a homogenised deck representing attacks and abilities does undermine that a little.

C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield screenshot

The variety of cards isn’t great either. The promo material cites 100 card types, which sounds like it should be a lot, but many of the cards just buff up other cards, and this creates issues. When you’re only drawing five cards in a turn, and only have three actions, having a deck filled with cards that do nothing more than boost your character’s defence or boost up your next attack is strategic, sure. But it’s also lacking in flair and that undermines the enthusiasm you’ll have for it over the longer term.

The single biggest problem, however, is the lack of narrative. When I see what essentially looks like Fire Emblem, I do expect to have those wonderful visual-novel-like storytelling sequences bookending battles. It’s not just that they give context to the conflict that’s unravelling from one battle to the next, but it’s because they build the characters from Battlefield Units With Utility to characters that you care about. I spent hundreds of dollars on a scale model figure of Lyn from the original GBA Fire Emblem because she, more than anything else, got me deeply invested in the game and, subsequently, the entire series. Because the narrative is so limited and generic in C.A.R.D.S, I’m not sure I can even remember any of the character’s names. I’m certainly not going to go buy a figure of any of them.

I know that the Slay The Spire-style roguelike doesn’t usually lend itself to a narrative, but in this instance, I don’t understand why that needed to be the case. There is room for the cut scenes and VN sequences. The developers just didn’t bother.

C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield screenshot

Overall, C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield is a brilliant idea and, mechanically, it’s executed well. But it’s also hard to shake the impression that this is just the first iteration of the idea and that a sequel, while unlikely, would be all the developer needed to really elevate this concept to become something special. As it is, though, it’s a very fine time waster, and, personally, my favourite application of the Slay The Spire style of deckbuilding roguelike yet.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • Thanks for the review. Because of the negative ratings on steam I was weary even though I really liked the demo. Now I know I can safely buy it and I already hope for a sequel…

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